Communicating Effectively — Art of Communicating Effectively

How do you prefer to receive your messages from a coworker? Have you mastered the art of effective communication? The discussion today focuses on our reaction to receiving the same messages in different media such as in written text (email), as audio (voice recording), and as a face-to-face conversation.

you_ve_got_mail_Reading a written text through email does not always convey the urgency of requests. If a coworker were asking for an update on a project I was way behind in, I may not respond promptly unless asked to respond promptly. Emails tend to appear one directional, especially when there is no mention of how soon a response should be made. Also, emails and other written messages lack a sense of personal communication (Portny et al., 2008). The greetings usually start with a “Hi” and end with a “sincerely” or “thank you” that do not convey a sense of friendship. Rather, written texts tend to be interpreted as neutral and impersonal. Written text needs to clearly state the outcomes and be detailed, leaving no room for misinterpretation. Emails and letters are fine for documenting communication to create a virtual “paper trail” that can be used fire an individual, but communication should be followed up by a face-to-face encounter or include a reply date. In an email example that I had looked at, there were no “respond by” timeline, expectations were not clearly identified, and no mention of a face-to-face follow up was discussed.

Answering machine phoneA voice recording on an answering machine is more personal than a written text, but it is not a good substitute for an actual face-to-face conversation. The voice recording offers some personalization, but lacks the interpretability stemming from body language (Portny et al., 2008). The changes in tone and pitch help convey more information than written text. For instance, a person yelling the message means urgent and lacks a sense of being respectful. Portraying a calm, pleasing voice may convey respect and a sense of non-emergency. A shaky voice can mean urgent and still respectful while also showing fear or concern.

Lastly, having a face-to-face meeting allows us to interpret body language from what is actually being said. A coworker that smiles while asking a question or making a statement can be interpreted differently when that person is crossing their arms or wrinkling their eyebrows. The urgency of requests can be implied through body language by lifting a finger (not the middle one!) such as the pointer. In an example that I have seen, a smile was shown to convey a happy tone during the greetings phase, an eyebrow raised to show sternness, and a finger was lifted to show urgency.

Resources
Portny, S. E., Mantel, S. J., Meredith, J. R., Shafer, S. M., Sutton, M. M., & Kramer, B. E. (2008). Project management: Planning, scheduling, and controlling projects. Hoboken, NJ: John Wiley & Sons, Inc.

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Collapse of the Royal Palm Resort Guam

Learning from a project – Post-mortem

Collapse of the Royal Palm Resort Guam

collapse of Royal Palms Guam

Collapse of Royal Palm Resort Guam

The Royal Palm Resort Guam, a new 220-unit 12-story hotel and condominium complex, collapsed just 18 days after opening.  On August 8, 1993 at 6:35P.M., Guam was struck by a magnitude 8.1 earthquake that lasted for a minute.  The resort consisted of a Beachside Tower and a Roadside Tower, which were constructed of reinforced concrete.  The partial collapse on the Beachside Tower was the result of poorly reinforced columns that were unable to withstand the magnitude 8.1 earthquake.  Where did the mistakes begin?

The investors of the Royal Palm Resort Guam hired a firm to oversee the design and development of the resort.  The firm represents the role of a project manager (PM).  “[P]roject management consists of planning, organizing, and controlling work” (Russell, 2000, p. 3).  Meaning, PMs are interested in forming a scope of work (SOW), identifying stakeholders, identifying resources, knowing budgets, sticking to a plan, enforcing timelines, and conveying results to the proper authority.  PMs are given a large responsibility of completing major projects.

The firm’s architectures structurally designed the building with input from various subject-matter experts (SME) in the form on structural engineers, civil engineers, designers, and other necessary members.  A contractor was selected based on the mutual agreement of the firm, the investors, and the SMEs.  Prior to the contractor receiving the design, the investors wanted to reduce the costs of the building by changing their structural engineer to someone who would approve of a cheaper budget.  A change of scope is not uncommon and it is not necessarily a problem (Greer, 2010).  In fact, scope changes can be beneficial when they allow the project to be under budget or allows for a quicker completion of the project.  The new structural engineer surmised that the columns could be reduced in size.

image of a coke cup

Coke cup

In comparison, if the top of a soda cup from a restaurant was the original width, then the bottom of the cup represented the new width of the column.   The reduced columns did meet the structural requirement of having the building withstand winds of up to 140mph, and the overall project was cheaper than anticipated.  However, the column had fewer rebar reinforcement to withstand a strong earthquake.

Years after the collapse, the courts ruled that the contractor was at fault, even though the structural engineer signed off on the documents. “Ultimately this resulted in the total loss of a $70 million hotel, just weeks after its completion and total financial losses that more than doubled the building’s construction cost” (Hamburger, n.d., p. 2).  The firm, acting as the PM, should have been firm and denied the client’s request to change the structural engineer.

Resources

Greer, M. (2010). The project management minimalist: Just enough PM to rock your projects! (Laureate custom ed.). Baltimore: Laureate Education, Inc  Retrieved from http://sylvan.live.ecollege.com/ec/courses/59896/CRS-CW-5089754/EDUC_6145_readings/PM-Minimalist-Ver-3-Laureate.pdf

Hamburger, R. (n.d.). Structural Failures: A case study.  Structural Engineering Institute.  Retrieved from http://content.seinstitute.org/files/pdf/StructuralFailures_guam.pdf.

Russell, L. (2000). Project management for trainers. Alexandria, VA: ASTD Press.

New area of focus: Project Management

My new area of focus for the upcoming eight weeks will be project management. I will explain how the roles of the Instructional Designer and Project Manager influence the key factors and priorities that are considered during the initial phase of an instructional design (ID) project. Also, I will examine the qualities and characteristics associated with successful Project Managers. Again, thanks for following my blog!